One of the most frustrating beliefs you come across when you opt out of the school system is that children NEED school. Even if there is a willing and capable parent to support their education outside of the system, people still refuse to believe that kids can live their whole childhood without the interference of school. Many believe that school is designed to cater exactly to what children need to become functional adults.
I don’t believe that. In fact, more often than not it seems to me that school wasn’t designed with children’s needs in mind at all.
If school were for children, their rights would be respected. Their right to consent, freedom (of thought, time, body), privacy, space, ownership of belongings, to express an opinion, to follow their own interests. They would not be subject to shame, punishment, coercion, force, demands, and evaluation.
If school were for children, there would be more autonomy. They would not be forced to seek permission for basic things like toileting, eating, and moving freely, and those things would never be denied.
If school were for children, it would be interest based. How much do you actually remember from your schooling? People learn best when they’re following their interests. If schools were interested in meaningful, authentic learning, they would follow the children’s interests and ideas.
If school were for children, they wouldn’t need coercion. You generally don’t need to coerce someone into doing something that is beneficial and enjoyable for them. Learning is as natural as breathing and you don’t have to force children to do it unless you’ve killed their love of learning in the first place.
If school were for children, they wouldn’t be standardised, tested, and compared. Do you perform well when you know you will be judged, compared to your peers, and treated differently because of it? Do you feel valued and respected? We know that this is not respectful or helpful in learning and yet schools still operate this way in the majority of cases. Why? Because it’s not about what’s best for children.
If school were for children, they’d follow best practice. Any institution that ignores current research in favor of tradition is incredibly concerning.
If school were for children, they’d be able to play. We know that play is incredibly important for children’s development, both physically and mentally. And yet, schools continue to cut play time shorter and shorter in favour of more time sitting and being dictated to. This is undeniably detrimental for children. They have a right to be able to play.
If school were for children, it wouldn’t be about what’s most convenient. Whenever I talk about respectful learning, I’m told that it’s not possible with a classroom full of children. When did we stop caring about what is an acceptable way to treat people, and opt for convenience instead? Children are worth the effort.
If school were for children, it would value individuality. Schools would value differences and unique talents, rather than attempting to make every child the same. A standardised human.
If school were for children, it would care more about mental health than test scores. Right now, the number one priority is how well you perform academically. Who cares if you’re happy or miserable?
If school were for children there would be more cooperation and less competition. Competition and comparison teach us that our self worth is dependent on being better than others.
If school were for children, they wouldn’t start at four years of age. Tiny four year olds are not mentally or emotionally ready for academics.
If school were for children, we wouldn’t separate people by age. We were designed to learn from our elders and be role models for those younger than us. Separating children from those outside their age limits their abilities for self-education. Wouldn’t want them thinking they can teach themselves!
If school were designed for children, with their needs in mind, then it would look a whole lot different than it does right now. Instead, we see schools catering to adult needs. Needs for outcomes, competitiveness, efficiency, conformity, making money. We see children controlled and coerced into doing whatever adults deem necessary for them. They are denied basic human rights in the name of convenience. We see standardised curriculums in lieu of interest-based learning. Movement and play is restricted so that children are forced to turn away from their innate ways of learning, to instead learn in inferior ways that adults have created.
Surely we know that none of this is ideal for children, yet we rationalise it as necessary to get an education. It’s time we stopped doing that. Education can be so much more and should never come at the expense of basic rights.
No, schools were not designed for children. They were designed by adults, for adults. Unschooling is about children having a voice. It is about listening to what children need. You can go ahead and keep telling us how kids need school, and we’ll keep listening to the children.